This Carnival reminded me of 1980. In that year the parades returned after staying off the streets the year before because of a police strike. The job action created tense moments with one of the most memorable being when the parade captains stood side by side before TV cameras saying, “we will not be held hostage by the Teamsters Union.” The season, of course, was still Mardi Gras but the most visual manifestation of it, the parades, were silenced, at least in New Orleans. By Ash Wednesday the strike fell apart when there was nothing left to hold hostage.
A year later folks were eager to make up for what they lost the previous season. It was a big, boisterous and happy Mardi Gras, made better by great weather. In the last moments of that Carnival, police in dress uniforms rode their motorcycles at the head of the Comus parade. At Gallier Hall, Mayor Dutch Morial, who had been the enemy of the strikers the previous year, had champagne glasses passed out to toast the riders. Carnival denied can heal wounds when returned.
•There are some parades whose floats are boxy tiple-decker tandem affairs designed for packing in riders, but this year showed evidence that some krewes are trying harder to look good. Babylon, a venerable traditional krewe that never looked flashy, righted that wrong with a surprisingly beautiful parade. Chaos, Hermes, Krewe d’Etat and Rex all offered something to look at beyond the beads. Carnival’s most visual night is the evening before Mardi Gras when Proteus remains as the prettiest of the old line krewes and arguably Carnival’s Best to Behold. Marching behind it was Orpheus, celebrating it 30th year, combining the bigness of a super krewe with the old line elegance.
For many years, Blaine Kern productions built the best floats but the re-emergence of Royal Artists is adding more to the palettes. Watch the parades for their design and let the beads land where they look best, hanging from oak trees.
•Among throws, Carnival’s newest rage is items that blink. Le Krewe d’ Etat claims to have been first to toss blinkeys of all sorts, (an innovation almost as historically important in the world of throws as when Rex started the doubloon craze in 1960.) Now, most nighttime krewes are flinging flashing items. One of the most visual moments is on the Thursday before Mardi Gras when Babylon, Chaos and then Muses roll along St. Charles Avenue. There are so many flickering items thrown that eventually the whole crowd seems to be blinking.
On a personal note, early in the Krewe d’ Etat parade I landed a wearable blinky, which was a green rubbery translucent figure of “The Dictator” (who rules the krewe instead of a King) with a blinking light inside. That was on the Friday night before Mardi Gras. Back at home I hung the item to the edge of a bookshelf to see how long it would perform. By the following Saturday, a week later, it was still blinking before making its last blip two days later. Whatever country the throw was made in has mastered long-range disposable battery technology. We should pay attention.
•A woman in the crowd at South Scott and Canal streets had an unusual parade partner which she carried in her arms – a lizard. I am not sure of the species but it was big, white and had a long tail. Oh, it was dressed in a costume. Why would a lizard have an interest in a parade? Just a guess: Maybe, it was hoping for Moon Pies. I hope the costume helped.
•Satire waved its teasing finger this Carnival and, in one case, Mayor Latoya Cantrell, seemingly used a finger in reply. Krewe du Vieux, Chaos, Tucks and Krewe d’ Tat sharpened their barbs this season with many jabs aimed at the mayor. Surprisingly during the d’Etat parade she seemed to be laughing hard at a float spoofing the allegations of her social life. Perhaps she was holding back the emotions released the next day during Tucks when her hand gesture indicated that she was offended, though it was unclear by what, among several possible choices.
Ultimately we could all celebrate that, after two years, the parades were back and their routes were whole again. And if we showed a finger it could been as part of a V for victory.